Making Every Second Count: Living University Life to The Fullest

Believing that there should be no boundaries when it comes to chasing after her dreams, Nicole Anne Hia set off to South Korea to pursue higher education, spurred by her interest in studying international relations but also wanting additional global exposure and a regional focus in East Asian affairs.

In the first of our Making Every Second Count series where we follow a campus alumni on how they have enriched their campus experience, we chat with Nicole, a senior at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College in Seoul, South Korea, on how she is adding global experiences at every turn of her academic journey abroad. 

25 November 2020 / By SGN

As an international studies major, having a wide variety of global exposure has greatly transformed Nicole Anne Hia’s academic journey – often, she is able to witness large geopolitical events happening in real-time, a stone’s throw away. “It’s very fascinating to be able to discuss developments in class while a big meeting is happening in the city hall just a couple stops away on the subway line,” she shares. 

Nicole Anne Hia

Nicole, who majors in international studies with a minor in economics, is now a senior at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College in Seoul, South Korea, and has expanded her academic experience greatly as she actively seeks out opportunities outside of her curriculum. 

Nicole was also fortunate enough to have been selected to spend semesters abroad at Peking University in Beijing, China and at Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City (NYC), in the U.S. She tells us that such multi-national experiences have helped her “to understand new perspectives and develop new insights about what it really means to be a global citizen in the current era.”

Experiencing Academic Life Differently

One of the biggest takeaways from Nicole’s experiences studying abroad was that there are many different avenues for learning and gaining opportunity if one chooses to be involved with the greater school and local community.

In Nicole’s campus, students are heavily involved in school government, clubs and other activities which range from hobbies to those with a more professional purpose. “These groups also organise gatherings outside of their usual activities, so you can get to socialise with many people and get to know them outside of classes!” she enthuses.

Nicole is an active member of Underwood Global Community, which is the college’s international student association. She eventually became Vice-President of the club and was later elected as Student Club Union President for the college and became part of the student government. 

This enabled her to become closer with her local student colleagues and also introduced her to the broader workings of the wider university administration – helping her to better advocate for groups such as student clubs and international students. “It allowed me to understand the local working style and environment more effectively, as I could see some of it being reflected in the student government,” she shares. 

Many of Nicole’s classes were also relatively smaller in size – ranging from about eight to thirty students – which allowed Nicole to have more interactions with her classmates and professors. She noted that the small classroom sizes have helped her to understand and pick up skills in nurturing and maintaining relationships through in-person and online means. 

While on her semester abroad, Nicole also exercised the same level of initiative. At Barnard College in NYC, she joined the Barnard-Columbia chapter of Design For America (DFA), a national organisation that teaches students to apply human-centric design to community engagement projects. “I really enjoyed being part of this group – they were super inclusive and accommodating, even when we had to move online amidst the whole COVID-19 situation,” she says. 

Through DFA, Nicole was involved in local community projects and learned on-hand about how design principles could be applied to areas beyond product design such as for public policy and social impact. 

“Even after my semester abroad, I continued to be involved by joining the Design At Columbia community and even teamed up with a friend from Barnard-Columbia Design For America (DFA) for a design sprint. I was really impressed with the programme that was developed in the middle of a pandemic.”

P.S. if you want to find know to crack the code in landing your dream job in the U.S., read our Alumni’s to The Galaxy Guide here.

The Global Nomad Who’s Always Connected to Home

You can leave it to Nicole to know exactly what to look out for (what apps to download, how to research about living situations, and looking for local support groups) in a new environment. 

Studying and living in multiple locations also meant that Nicole had to become adaptive with cultural shock and new environments whenever she moved to a new place. “I’ve also learnt how to navigate between different cultures with greater sensitivity. Learning about cultural context and being mindful of what you say is very important,” she asserts. “I think I’ve also gotten a lot better at code-switching, having interacted with people from multiple countries in the same setting.”

To stay connected to family and friends, Nicole relies on WhatsApp and Facetime on the day-to-day, and would occasionally get to see them as a treat when they come by to visit. “If I’m in an area where my family have a friend or we have an extended family, they might get them to come check up on me as well,” she tells us. When she does come back to Singapore to visit, she would also schedule meet ups with friends, although they already stay in close contact via social media apps. 

Food will always be dearly missed when living away from home. Nicole shares a tip for new Singaporeans living abroad that events organised by the embassy or Singaporean chapter would always provide some local fare – and she would often choose to attend them to meet with locals living abroad on top of getting her Singaporean food fix. She also highly recommends checking out local Singaporean or Malaysian eateries to quell the homesickness!

For new Singaporeans studying abroad, Nicole says that joining expat support groups can be especially helpful. “That’s usually the first thing I look for in a different country, or city. There are many people who have gone through what you’re going through at the moment, and thus are able to better understand your issues and provide relevant information and/or suggestions,” she explains.

One important tip that Nicole is adamant about is to not develop a habit of hanging out with just foreigners or a solely Singaporean group of friends. Instead, she advises that having a diverse mix of people coming from international backgrounds and locals can help one to assimilate into the global community while remaining tied to your own roots.


If you’d like to connect with fellow Singaporeans such as Nicole to learn more about her experience or seek advice from those who have made the first steps in their journey, join our network of strong and extensive connections with our global citizens and overseas communities of talent and influencers today! We’d be happy to introduce you to our Regional Representatives and if there’s something else that you’re looking for, we’re always an e-mail away at hello@singaporeglobalnetwork.sg

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